12 hours In a Hotel Room

Andy and I fell in love hastily. It was over thousands of miles and at least a couple of continents, and mostly because we wanted to avoid the tedious task of loving ourselves.

Image: Pixabay

When I first saw Andy, he was smiling at me with dimples flashing through a computer screen. He was 6 feet something I quickly guessed, and as he leaned back casually, some European city blurred in the the background. I toggled back to the screen with his open email, and pressed reply.

I had been single for a few years, but still oddly and idly preoccupied by an old lover, while firmly in the grip of severe loneliness, depression maybe, sadly undiagnosed and ignored. I had that special kind of loneliness about me that secretly takes over your life, your energy, your capacity for rational thinking, all without your knowledge, like the Stockholm Syndrome, making you attached to your captor, taking refuge in them.

Joe, a friend I had made at my first job had introduced Andy to me, marking us both on a joint email. “I think you’d be perfect for each other,” she’d declared, and we believed her — we both needed a life raft.

Andy was working in Copenhagen, Denmark, and I had just moved back to my hometown Pune, India, after an intense few years working in a fast-paced, underpaid Bombay. He was out of a long significant relationship also, one where his heart was callously broken. He was a User Interface designer, me an out-of-job journalist at the time. After we’d exchanged the first few emails, I giddily crossed things off a list I must’ve last updated in high school. Creative — check. Tall — check. Well-travelled — check.

About a year later, parking my dad’s car into a tight parking space of a local hotel where Andy was staying, I checked the reflection in the rear-view mirror. My eyes looked vacant, but I had tried to cover it up with a bit of kohl. There was some redness on my cheeks, but that was normal. That’s always the first place to show dissonance of any kind — extra weight, dehydration, crushing distress. I had on a dress that I wanted to make me look pretty, impossible to break up with; a look that I hoped would spark an urge for Andy to pat my hair, hide me from the world and to love me ferociously, leaving no time for me to think about why I didn’t quite.

But he had already broken up with me on a video call from thousands of miles away; and this hotel meeting was meant to be a formalisation of that decree in flesh and blood. Sitting on my old boxy computer a week back, the various rubles of home renovation scattered all around the room, I had heard him say that our engagement would now need to be broken. The parcel carrying the dream catcher he’d sent me a couple weeks ago lay on the floor beside my computer, its contents hanging over the bed in my childhood bedroom to keep the bad dreams away.

“I don’t think we’d work”, he said. I looked blankly, straining to hear what he was saying to me over the static in my my head.

Our relationship had moved fast, fervent emails progressing to frequent video calls. It peaked when he asked me if I’d like to get engaged. “ I can make a quick trip,” he said. I wore a beautiful saree for the function and for some reason, straightened my wild curly hair into wisps. In the pictures, I looked nothing like myself, but we both seemed to think of each other as perfect

Now he’d made a trip to my hometown to break up in person, and checked into a local hotel for the night. When he opened the door to my timid knock, my first instinct was to melt into his arms like all of this never happened. He had that shirt on that I was familiar with from our several video calls, washed and well-worn, comfortable-looking and soft.

Most of our relationship was facilitated by these calls, where it was so easy to create a version of him that matched what I wanted most, and get lost in the idea that the future with him would be fantastic. In the total span of our year long relationship, we may have spent a week with each other in person. The rest of it was our imagination working both collectively and unilaterally — blanks were filled to suit love poems each of us was writing alone.

It was confusing, and as strangely exciting as it was obviously melancholic, finding myself in a hotel room just for break up. It did not seem like too long ago, texting in the neon glow of our phones phone, that we had told each other that we couldn’t wait to be together soon. We had counted off a few things we would like to do to and with each other. I’d blushed and imagined how it would all be. He smiled with those dimples again. I had lapped it all up, while he was probably considering the details of the break-up just beyond the periphery of the webcam’s careless eye.

Standing in the centre of his hotel room now, I did not know what exactly which needy emotion to prioritise — my concupiscence or my sharp, unexpected betrayal. The rest of the night was a literal manifestation of this confusion; a capricious dance between needing him and hating him.

Cruelly enough, our first date was in a hotel room too. After a couple of months of clinging agonisingly to my computer and constantly adjusting for inter-continental time difference, we were finally going to meet. Early that morning I got into my red car, freshly washed, about 1.5 hours before his flight was to land. I drove slowly, being only a new driver, but determined to make it to the airport despite the fervent, aggressive butterflies. I reached with time to spare.

I remember pulling out a magazine from the back seat of my car and attempting to reading it while checking my reflection every now and again. My skin had broken into urticaria hives from the stress.When his flight finally landed and he made his way out, I stepped out of the car just when the sun got caught in my left eye, making me squint awkwardly. A good head and shoulders taller, he bent down to give me our very first hug and I melted pretty much as soon as his hand slid along my waist and scooped me up close. Things got pretty blurry after that.

At some point, I gathered my robe and I slipped into the bathroom. There, like a sharp U-turn of sepia-toned romance, I was confronted with a solo faecal mass floating in the toilet bowl, like an ugly omen he left for me of how this relationship would go. I stared at it for a while, stuck in what seemed like an uncommon, comical out-of-body experience. But afraid to interpret the gut feeling, I flushed it out of sight immediately.

There were some more signposts along the way. Physical ones, like he had tiny calfs for his towering frame. But other relevant ones too, like not having seeing him laugh even once in the course of our relationship.But other than that, Andy was perfect, and never let on that he was unhappy. He said all the right things and listened and paid attention. Seemingly 100 percent into me, even one night before the video call where he broke off our engagement.

His relationship before ours was a rough one, where he was strung along only to find that he lost a competition he was unaware he was in. Forever torn between two men, his lover had brutally picked the other man to be hers. Maybe he was looking to outsource the dirty job of loving himself too. Luckily for me, he woke up from the trance.

I can say that now, but back in the hotel room, being broken up felt a lot like I imagine death to feel. The morning moved on into late afternoon, the evening into late night. I had many questions, and above all, I was trying to make sense of quicksand. Wait, you don’t want to love me anymore? Where does that leave me — who will love me now?

At one point I crouched behind the lone couch in the room, the one that’s usually there in hotel rooms but you don’t quite know what for. I didn’t just walk out and drive away though. I wanted to pick at the wound, scrape off the scab, draw blood. In the middle of the night, I crawled into his twin bed begging to be held.

As he sat in my living room and broke the news to my parents, I saw him as a distant outsider. Not someone I was engaged to or someone who was going to rescue me somehow, but as stranger with a tired face, unfamiliar. Although I was unaware of it then, the disassociation must’ve happened one hour at a time through those 12 gruelling hours I spent in the hotel room, where, in the course of shedding tears, I had also shed some skin. I had shed the need for a plan for my life set by some one else, the need to be protected by a tall suitor with dimples. I left behind the need for someone else to complete me, tell me where to go. It felt like was sitting in a room alone with myself, finally.

The days that followed those dramatic 12 hours didn’t break me as id imagined. Recovery took time, but it wasn’t a broken heart that I was nursing. Andy’s loss didn’t seem to matter much to me, almost like a magic trick — you think there was someone in the box, you swore you saw someone climb in, but turns out there was no one all along. What took time to for me was to reclaim responsibility for my well being; but the intention had set in, and that carried me through.

Little by little, I understood what had happened, and no longer saw myself as a victim. I will never forget the trip I took alone to London a couple of month later. At the Tube station, a large suitcase and a flight of stairs to conquer, I felt alone, yet strangely excited by the prospect of problem solving, the prospect of independence. What I did not feel was alone.

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Sowmya

Unnecessarily sensitive to bad grammar and social cues. Instagram: @curlysom. Website: www.methodandwhimsy.com